Alaska Airlines Beware!

Ok on my last four Alaska airlines legs, I’ve had three problems. We’ve always liked Alaska and they always seemed like the folks who had to try harder. However there have been changes to their upgrade system for frequent travelers that can definitely leave you stranded. You’ve been warned!
Here are recommendations for what to do differently to protect yourself.
1. Don’t trust your boarding pass! Equipment changes can move you from any seat to no seat without warning. If upgraded only book first two rows of first and run to the gate to see if there is change ASAP. Ok Alaska has fully integrated their Virgin America acquisition. That’s horrible because of two facts. When there is an equipment change unlike United they have no mechanism for informing people who are suddenly without seats. We were in JFK and had been pleasantly surprised with an upgrade. However two hours before the flight they changed equipment. You can only see this if you constantly refresh the Alaska app. So three recommendations. Don’t trust the app. If you are upgraded make sure you are in the first two rows of first class even if you are split up. That’s because Virgin Atlantic only has two rows of first so no matter what you are going to keep your seat. If you are in rows 3 or 4, when you get to airport run directly to the gate and figure out if there is an equipment change. Because equipment. changes are not handled by their central system and the gate staff will NOT worry about first class passengers without seats until you show up at the gate. As an aside this appears to be true on any equipment change. They seem to be doing this often on Virgin Atlantic bases like JFK and SFO. As an aside if this happens if you are frequent flyer you lose all your priority because it is just handled at the gate and there is just one queue. Customer service can’t help you.
2. Do not check in early because you will not be able to get a seat if an upgrade comes through, get a physical boarding pass at the gate . They recently changed their system so that if you check in and then are upgraded, you can’t select a seat because their system thinks you have already check in. They no longer recognize upgrades correctly in seat selection so end up in the dreaded, “no seat assigned purgatory). Online app and telephone representatives can not fix this because this can only happen at the gate. So you definitely want to wait it out. And it’s probably best if you’ve time to suffer through the check in line at the airport or failing that check in online and then run to the gate. .
3. Don’t bother with calling reservations. All the power is with the besieged ground staff. At least at the airports I’ve seen they are having more problems like this. Ground staff morale seems low. Folks are surly and tired. The woman who Was the sole agent agent boarding a flight for example had been up since 4am and was working a 7pm flight. She was so tired she forgot the inbound flight hadn’t deplaned yet and started sending crew onboard. Also don’t expect sympathy once you are at the gate. As the other gate rep said, “you never bought first class so you should just stop talking with me.” I don’t know what’s going on but looks like Alaska might be entering the bad old days of lower cost by overworking. As with all travel, if it isn’t a root canal then you really haven’t been through it all. Lower your expectations 🙂
5. Do not assume lounge people or anyone else can help. Go to the gate. The lounge folks in some airlines have a lot of power, but not with Alaska. You need to run to the gate first verify all and then you can go elsewhere and get to the gate early in case your seat gets yanked.
4. Don’t assume inflight stuff works, preload GoGo Entertainmeny. They don’t have it on the newer planes and the of Virgin Atlantic planes seem flaky with nice error messages like server not found. You need to load the app in the airport because the loading while on the plane definitely does not work.

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